Design Hotel back on the menu

Well, it looks like Helsinki is going to get another round of angry debate around the planning of what the city calls a “designer hotel” in a cherished and already much-debated part of town, namely the waterfront to the east of the market, on the island of Katajanokka. This will be familiar to fans of Finland’s “jugend” architecture. Some decades after that went in, Alvar Aalto, still the unquestioned god of Finnish architecture, was allowed to replace a much-loved old building with something, well, that still upsets people. If the current plans, from the Herzog+de Meuron stables, go ahead, Aalto’s “mistake” will probably pale into insignificance.

On Sunday the main newspaper, Helsinging Sanomat, reported that a majority of the city council are probably behind the plans and ends its report with the “observation” that should it not go ahead, it would be a terrible shame as the area is going to be vacated by its current, rather unsightly users, and Helsingin Sanomat believes the only alternative to starchitecture and hotel space is to leave the “waterfront empty”.

If apparent lack of imagination afflicts some (many of those in power) all the signs are that resistance will be strong, and (British readers take note) largely spearheaded by the architectural profession. Harri Hautajärvi, former editor of Ark magazine, was forthright. And published another image from the designers, hereHelsinki Waterfront Hotel, Helsinki, Finland. The thumbnail, copyright Herzog and de Meuron, is to the left. Worth chasing up the images then.

For non-Finnish readers, below is a short rendition of the article from 30.08.09:

Helsinki mayor Jussi Pajunen (kok/conservatives) is lobbying hard to enliven the waterfront area near the market. This is why he is behind the private initiative.

Should the plans not go through, because nothing else is being proposed for the site the waterfront would remain empty. Helsinki harbour has already given permission to demolish the current terminal buildings next year.

Other images of H+DM’s plans were published in Helsingin Sanomat in November 2008. Uusi Suomi, the welcome web-based alternative to HS, headlined “Scandal in Katajanokka” already in May 2008.

Much, much to discuss. A Swiss flag in concrete (glass) in Helsinki? Suitable? Lively? For the city’s inhabitants? For the global financial elite and their hopeful hangers on who hope and believe that the economic crisis will go away and leave nothing unchange? The debate rages on the website of Hesari and, no doubt, elsewhere, to be picked up here anon.

Photos of the area to follow. This  is fascinating stuff and brings debates about urban space and the political economy to Helsinki like few other things have done.

P.S. Announcements for high rises on another area vacated by former harbour, in Jätkäsaari, were made in today’s HS as well. Helsinki’s student accommodation organisation to be the first on this empty plot, plans for the Marriot hotel have gone on ice due to recession

Hoas rakennuttaa Jätkäsaaren ensimmäiset talotTaloustaantuma viivästyttää Marriot-hotellin rakentamista

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